It all started with an episode of “Masterchef”.
“Your challenge today is in Abbotsford Convent Bakery.”
We were inspired!
Oh we should take a day trip out to New Norcia Bakery (once run by the Benedictine monks). Let’s go this WA Day long weekend.
After a little Googling we discover via the New Norcia Bakery website that bread is no longer sold at the original New Norcia Bakery but instead here in Perth. But we read on about the New Norcia Benedictine Community and decide it is still definitely worth a day trip in the car with kids.
We consult Google Maps for directions, it will take us almost 2 hours to drive.
Our New Norcia Day Trip
So at 9am on Monday morning we are in the car packed for the road trip with water, snacks and activities for Lewis.
Lewis is so eager to play Eye Spy he starts before we back out the driveway. Half way up the Mitchell Freeway he has moved onto his colouring. Needless to say he runs out of activities before we are half way there. We endure 30 minutes of how much longer? Spending much of the time educating him about the signage on country roads, one of which states how many kilometres to the next town – we are counting down. Fortunately, there is little traffic on the road and we make good time.
We pull into the car park behind the New Norcia museum and are astounded at the number of people waiting for the 11am tour. We quickly purchase a family combination ticket ($60) for the tour and museum.
Outside our tour guide, Sue is ready to get started. She begins by advising us that while New Norcia sits within the Victoria Plains Shire it is not an official town, it is actually a monastic town – the only one in Australia – owned and run by the Benedictine Monks, not by the government. Sue adds, during our walking tour the terrain will be rocky and at times a little unsteady – be careful (I’ll add, it would be hopeless if you had a pram).
We move on up grassy slopes and crunch along the gravel road to stop at a well. It is here that the story begins.
The Benedictine Monks led by Rosendo Salvado arrived onto this land in the summer of 1846. The land and river were dry, it was thanks to the local Yued Aboriginal people who showed Salvado how to find water, and so began his work with the Australian Aborigines.
Salvado was the first Abbot of New Norcia, his plan was to learn about the local indigenous people and to try to work harmoniously with them. He did not want to change the Aborigines but to make them feel welcome to stay. Sue tells us how he built the Aboriginals housing and offered the young children education, yet knowing that they lived a different way of life Salvado did not force the Aborigines to stay when they wanted to go walkabout but welcomed them back on their return, he also did not make the Aboriginal children sit in formal classrooms as European children would.
He appeared to be a very forward thinking man.
When Salvado passed away Torres became the second Abbot of New Norica and the direction of the monastery shifted from focussing on the local bush community to the local pastoral and rural community. Torres was an architect who loved the arts and built a girls and a boys boarding school for farming children that include elaborate chapels with hand painted walls. Torres also built onto the monks Monastery and decorated the Abbey Church with etchings carved into the plaster walls and ornate wood carvings in the fixtures.
Sue continues on with the storytelling guiding us across the highway to the site of a famous fire in 1848.
The fire was driven towards the newly built buildings and corn harvests by a strong wind. All hands tried to fight the fire, but nothing was slowing it down. When all hope was lost the monks brought out a picture of Our Lady of God Counsel the wind turned and the fire was out. All who witnessed this could not believe the miracle.
Next, we stroll over to the Monastery, Sue tells us that the monks are very welcoming of all people no matter their religion and you are welcome to stay at the monastery accommodations. The accommodation is designed for people who want peace and a time to reflect – there is no TV in the rooms and you are expected to eat when the monks eat and what they eat.
Across the road is the Abbey Church and we step inside to look at the most beautiful art work on the walls, wood carving in the fixtures, a stunning pipe organ and see the tomb of Salvado.
We make our way back across the highway and up to the Old Flour Mill that was built in 1850 the new one mill was built in 1879 and is still in use today.
The new flour mill that is still in use today supplies flour for the owners of the New Norcia Bakeries who are under agreement with the Benedictine monks that they must bake bread daily in the old stone ovens in the monastery. This bread is for the monks, the hotel, and a limited amount of loaves are also sold at the museum.
Before our tour ends Sue gives a quick look inside St Gertrude’s (for girls) school chapel which opened in 1908
and St Illephonsus (for boys) school chapel which opened in 1913. Both schools closed 1991 due to dwindling numbers and are now available for hire by school camp groups.
We thoroughly enjoy the tour and love exploring the monastic town under Sue’s guidance who retold us so many more stories than I have shared with you.
Of cour, e if you are trying to save your pennies; the town has really good signage to help you learn about the old buildings. But, you would miss much of the wonderful tales that Sue spent the morning retelling – truly worth every the money.
With the tour finished we are now famished and head over to the New Norcia Hotel, once the hostel for parents for a sleep after they had dropped off their children for school.
I line up to order and overhear that meals will be at least an hour (I don’t know if it is just extremely busy because of the long weekend, or it is always like this), I have to admit I am a little disappointed as the meals coming out look good and I had wanted to try the local bread and wine from the Benedictine Monastery. In hindsight, I should have gone with one of my easy picnic meal ideas and packed some cold meats and cheese and bought a loaf of bread in the museum before the tour.
So we take a quick tour of the museum as we had paid. There are a lot of old relics and painting from the area, though much of the museum seemed to cover a lot of what was already discussed on the tour.
Then it’s back down the highway towards Perth stopping in at Bindoon bakery (30 minutes away) for that delicious pie we had originally thought about when we watched the Masterchef episode.
Has TV or a movie inspired a trip for you?